Hi all, and welcome to a new week here at Write to Reel.
The script we’re looking at today emphasizes how important it is to look at and have a basic comprehension of script format. Victor is an active member of our forum, and I’m glad to help him out, but he’s also busy writing script after script, which is good, but I want to stress that first sentence.
The Hand Me Down Priest by Victor D. Jordan
A young man named Jeremiah learns that his father, a Priest named Roy, was killed. Eager to learn who killed him and why, he returns to his child-hood town to find out what happened, but discovers that there was more to his father than meets the eye.
Let’s get ‘er done.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Right off the bat.
A young man is seen going into the attic of his child hood home.
Should always be:
A young man goes into the attic.
I’d argue, we don’t need “his childhood home” because there’s really no way to show that.
This “is seen” bit is a recurring theme throughout the script. Trash all of it and use simple present tense.
In other parts the description is too long and labored. Break it up.
Jeremiah falls to the ground and scrambles the floor in search of a weapon. Jeremiah sees a stool in the distance and quickly reaches for it. He grabs the stool and strikes the demon with it, the stool breaks into tons of pieces, but has no effect on the demon.
The demon knocks Jeremiah to the ground. He scrambles along grabbing at anything that could be a weapon.
His fingers grasp the leg of the stool, and he flings it behind him.
The stool breaks into what seems like a million pieces, but the demon SNARLS after him.
Breaking it up this way adds a bit of tension, is easier on the reader, and is a legitimate way to beef up your page length (which this script could use).
Go back and see where you could improve description, as there were several cases.
5 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
This is a HUGE problem. As I mentioned above, I chose to read this script because it was from someone who has been active in our forums. A professional reader however would have stopped at page 1.
Everything is center aligned in the script. That isn’t a quick fix for proper formatting.
The thing that kept me going for Victor was a decent story and also only 85 pages, so I read it fairly quickly.
HOWEVER, and I’ve said this on our forums and others, learning basic formatting shows that you value a reader’s time. If you’re not serious enough to learn how to do something, why should a reader treat your script seriously?
This fortunately, is an easy thing to remedy, and although personally I’m a Final Draft guy, there are other free platforms out there that can solve your formatting dilemma.
I’ve not used either, but the two free ones people always seem to talk about are Adobe Story and Celtx. I HIGHLY suggest Victor check those out before writing his next script.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading OTHER scripts or books on proper format. The first we have TONS of on this site alone, and although there’s no set rules, there is a basic pattern we all need to follow.
One last note, please include page numbers and eliminate “End of Act” uses.
1 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Tons of exposition. In fact a good argument can be made the entire script is exposition, broken up by a few brief action sequences.
Jeremiah doesn’t think his dad was a good guy. Turns out his dad was an awesome demon hunter who kept the human race safe.
That’s a cool premise, but it needs to come out in a better way than characters just talking about it.
Page 22 – This is a GREAT example of two characters just talking, and is easily fixed. Use a “cheat” popular in similar video game stories. Jeremiah uses the gun for the first time, and it saves him, but he also breaks it in the process. This makes his need to find Curtis even more critical.
Now when he meets Curtis for the first time, you have something for Curtis to do while he’s giving us the back story on Roy (unfortunately no relation to the beloved Roy of this site). It still needs to be kept to a minimum and the main focus should be Curtis more or less recrafting this holy weapon.
HOMEWORK – Go back and see where there’s other exposition. I’ll give you a hint, anytime Curtis or Lydia talk about Roy, that’s exposition. For where we’re at writing level wise, I’d even say stick with flashbacks for this. It’s better to see than to just have it talked about (plus Roy and I are of the opinion that flashbacks are becoming more acceptable).
Remember though, DON’T flashback to people talking.
Characters talked too much. I was reminded of how sims interact in The Sims video game.
They’re talking without actually saying anything, or at least taking the long way around to get to something simple.
An example from page 3:
Why didn’t you fucking stop him?
I would not have been able to do much, the house was blessed. I was barely able to enter it.
Why didn’t you fucking stop him?
The house was blessed.
Whoa, see what I did there? SUBTEXT! (Roy, lookit me learning!)
Not only did that cut down the dialogue, but it also hints at the fact that Vigil’s a demon without him coming right out and saying it.
Another example from page 6:
Look I don’t know a god damn thing about that gun, and even if I did I can’t tell ya nothin’.
Now you hold on a minute, I’ve been trying to learn what happened to my old man for the past 10 years, and you’re tellin’ me you can’t help me, when it’s quite obvious you can?
I don’t know a damn thing about that gun, and if I did I couldn’t tell you.
Jeremiah COCKS the gun in the bartender’s face.
I don’t think this is as good a fix as the previous example, but it’s shorter, and being economical with dialogue is never a bad thing.
Now, just because I’m citing two early instances, don’t think the rest is okay, it’s not. But I record early examples and then continue reading, not recording the others. There’s definitely more.
Here I’ll use one of my general suggestions, go back and revise anything that’s more than two lines and cut it down to one. This is a great dialogue exercise.
An Old Man and a Kid walk up to a Bartender…
…And insist on using the others’ title in every line of dialogue.
This was too much.
Jeremiah doesn’t need to say “bartender” in every line when talking to the bartender, nor does he need to say “old man” or “old timer” in every bit of dialogue with Curtis.
On the opposite end of that discussion, Curtis doesn’t need to keep calling Jeremiah “kid.”
Never break things up this way.
One last thing
Page 65 – Was the only time (I think) that the description said exactly what the next line of dialogue mentioned. Essentially you told us twice.
Lydia and Jeremiah are seen in a grassy field, as she begins to explain why she asked Jeremiah to come here.
So what’s up, why did you want us to come here of all places?
I mention it because even though it was the only one I noticed, I’d still go back and check there aren’t any more.
1 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
Yes. The story was very big, and once flushed out has the potential for a high concept film that appeals to the masses.
10 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
I’m unsure, because the draft is currently too short.
It’s the start of a unique story, but I have yet to see from this bare bones writing sample whether Victor alone could be the only one to finish this story.
5 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
The logline had both Roy and I interested, in that priests don’t typically have sons, at least that they talk about. (Roy, being the egotistical bastard he is, was really only interested because Jeremiah’s father shared his name.)
Page 1 also starts out strong (aside from the formatting issues) in that Jeremiah unlocks a chest that his father thought was important, and is upset to find a gun in it.
Tying that into the priest aspect, I wanted to venture forward.
One thing I will mention here is the unnecessary flashback. We don’t need to jump back 12 years just to find out the chest is important. Use a quick line of dialogue like:
Jeremiah unlocks the chest.
Alright dad, let’s see what all your fuss was about.”
Then he opens the chest, sees the gun, and can say his hypocrite line. This line of dialogue might also be a way to present snappy dialogue that presents his resentment towards Roy.
12 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Yes and no.
It was good, and I kept reading, but the dialogue in the bar really weighed me down. It’s obvious the bartender and patrons knew Roy and were afraid of he and the gun, but Jeremiah should want to explore that more.
It should be presented better that he didn’t like his dad, and thinks he was a shitty priest. This makes the reveal better later on that Roy wasn’t a priest in the traditional priest, and knocks Jeremiah back a bit beginning the character arc that leads him to accepting his father.
I do have to give major points to Victor though for a good inciting incident which happened on page 10. Victor is attacked by a demon, and he’s now stuck in the realm of the supernatural for the rest of the script.
I’ll talk about it later too, but this is the first instance of him escaping too easy.
8 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Although the backbone of the story was in place, there’s a lot of issues here.
Mainly, the story right now is just too easy for Jeremiah. He doesn’t have to work for his goal. Sure he trains for it, but he doesn’t give up or lose anything that makes him a stronger demon hunter.
He just trains for a day, and boom, he’s better.
Now don’t take this to mean we need a more extensive training montage. We don’t.
A better idea would be to use a trial by fire type training. FORCE the demons down our throats, and make their attack on humanity imminent, and guess what, Jeremiah’s the only one that can save us.
Curtis doesn’t give the son of the greatest demon hunter any slack either, he’s tossing him into the mix, because if Jeremiah doesn’t learn quick we’re all doomed anyway.
The scene with the blindfold is good, but it’d be better to reveal Lydia this way. Jeremiah succeeding this early isn’t believable, and having him THINK he’s going after a real demon, and then failing, leaving us to believe he’s dead is the perfect way for Lydia to enter the story.
I hate my father…wait, okay he’s cool…
Jeremiah changes too fast. He goes from thinking his dad’s a bum to making him father of the year just by flicking a switch. This needs to take time, and he needs to take convincing.
Remember, Roy was a great demon hunter that saved humanity, but it also left Jeremiah growing up without a dad. He’d have a lot of resentment from that.
Think of your A story as Jeremiah defeating the demons, while your B story is Jeremiah coming to accept his dad did what was necessary.
Fighting Hordes of demons, NINJA STYLE!
The ending was horrible. The idea of it was good, but how our characters got there was bad.
It was all just too easy. Jeremiah and Lydia basically walked right up to Mikah shot him, then when he didn’t actually die they stabbed him with a magic sword. Nothing was difficult for them.
This was a SNOOZEFEST!
Make it stronger.
The soul stealing bit was bland too. It would have been better to have Jeremiah refuse the help his father used, as it more or less killed his Roy. (This fact was glossed over with the whole “he was too old” bit.)
Lydia wanting to be human (even though she seems disgusted by us) has a world of plot possibilities, so explore them before you rewrite. Maybe she’s not as good as she seems, and wants to be human for selfish reasons, maybe becoming part demon corrupts Jeremiah making him vulnerable to control, SOMETHING better needs to be done with that.
3 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
It’s a cool story, and I can’t stress that enough, especially knowing how the score will probably end up.
The problem is that there’s not enough.
Audiences will want more, and want the characters to more or less walk through Hell to get to their goal.
Another problem was the script had a lot of typos. Readers won’t appreciate this. These weren’t misspellings, but typos in the sense of using “blissed” instead of “blessed”. Expecting spell-check to catch everything is lazy, so go back and proofread.
3 out of 10 points.
I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but I can’t stress enough the importance of proper formatting. First, because I didn’t use it when I started and realize now I wasted initial reads with some decent folks in Hollywood. Second, it’s just so easy to do.
There’s no reason why ANYONE can’t take an hour of their time to look at actual scripts and see how to do it, or find a software that literally DOES IT FOR YOU.
This is a MANDATORY first step towards being a professional screenwriter.
Currently, this script is somewhere between a detailed outline and a rough draft. Even at 85 pages, when properly formatted that’ll probably drop down to 65-ish.
The basics of the story are there, but it’s going to take time to flush them out.
Total 48 out of 100 points.
Thanks for the review Hank, I knew the formatting would get a low score, I hadn’t done my research well enough before finishing the script, and thought triple formatting was there. Honestly I kind of winged the ending, because I was still working it out I’ll try to come up with an improved one. I’ll be taking your notes to heart with the revision, thanks again.
Not at all a problem, and thanks for letting us take a look (and uploading it to our Read Page).
I HAVE to be honest though, I know you have other scripts, and we’d be more than willing to take a look, but you MUST get basic formatting down. Roy would most likely take your next script, but both of us want to make sure large problems are addressed before investing a lot of time in a review. You fixing the larger (and easier remedied) problems allow us to focus on fine tuning more of the other stuff.
Understood, I think my second script did a much better job with the formatting. Again, I apologize for the triple spacing I wasn’t doing enough research and thought it was ok. It wasn’t until after I had uploaded the script that I realized that it wasn’t
It’s more than just the triple spacing, though. You’re just “center aligning” things if I’m not mistaken.
Check the read page and download Alex’s Transfer 2.0 or Karl’s Blood and Fire to see the difference. (And those are just quick examples, not my favorite scripts or anything, so no one freak out if I didn’t mention you.) Your second script is better with the headings, but there’s still more for you to do.
Then google Celtx and Adobe Story and see what works easiest for you. (They both should be free.)
me and final draft 8 are pretty much in love. we hope to have babies soon. anyway, i’ve never tried the other software options out there, but if you really want to take this whole screenwriting thing serious, you need to make that commitment, plunge, whatever and just get yourself a copy of final draft. it solves a lot of the problems listed and pretty much does your thinking for you. although, i think it’s a good thing your first script wasn’t written on this kind of software, makes you actually have to learn most of the things FD does for you. it’s like learning calculus. you may never actually need it for anything, but at least it’s good to know it’s there somewhere in your head.
I sure don’t mean to be a party pooper, but me and the kids just finished netflixing 6 seasons of the show SUPERNATURAL… and this sur reminded me of it.
If you’d like I can read it and tell you what smacks too closely to what they do on that show, because just from this review, it sounds awfully familiar.
See, during the run of the show, we saw that Sam Winchester was kept unawares of his dad’s demon hunting for as long as possible. And it’s Papa Winchester’s disappearance that triggers the start of the pilot episode.
And then there’s the Colt- the special demon/anything-but-Lucifer killing pistol that 2 or 3 seasons of Supernatural centered around.
Wow, that’s actually pretty funny. I had never seen Supernatural before, but I know about it. I’m glad you mentioned that. I might have to change up the story, if I still plan on changing this one.
I love Supernatural. Such an amazing show.
As for formatting software, I use Celtx. Its free and just as good as Final Draft IMO.